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Running strategy: from 5k to marathon

Running strategy: from 5k to marathon

If you’re new to running or are just stick to 5k runs, the prospect of a marathon can seem daunting. And at over eight times the distance, we don’t blame you. But moving from 5k to a marathon isn’t as unattainable as you might think. There are tonnes of plans and resources out there, so we wanted to collate the best bits and give you a guide to achieving a marathon. We’ll take you through how to train and recover for one of the most challenging but rewarding runs of your life. 


Choosing your training plan 

In general, most 5k to marathon training plans sit around the 16-24 week mark. However, it’s key to assess your level of fitness before embarking on any training plan. If you’ve not been cardio training for a while, or perhaps ever, then it’s best to give yourself more time to reach the marathon mark. If, however, you’ve regularly engaged in some form of cardio - whether that be boxing, HIIT, cycling or swimming - you’ll be able to reduce the time down. Ultimately go with a schedule that feels good to you and that fits in with your lifestyle. 


Planning your running strategy 

Whether you decide to go with a pre-made running strategy or you want to create your own, it’s key to understand how they should be structured. 

When it comes to running strategy, you might think that your mileage is the most important metric of success. However, whilst it is of course important, running a marathon is so much more than just being able to run 26.2 miles. Your training needs to incorporate and improve your endurance, mental resilience, ability to pace and speed. 

As a result, your training plan shouldn’t just consist of running as far as you can every time you go for a run. It should include a variety of running types and enough time for your body to rest and repair. When training for a marathon that means at least one full day off of training a week - whether you’re in week 1 or 24 of the plan. 

When planning or trying to choose a running plan, you should always look for gradual increases in mileage and intensity. So what does this look like? Here’s a sample for a 16-week programme.


Weeks 1-2

  • 3 ‘base’ runs with a slight increase in mileage over the 2 weeks 

Weeks 2-6

  • Sticking with 3 runs per week, adding a couple of low-intensity cardio workouts for 20-30 minutes
  • At least one of your runs should include a different training technique such as sprint finishes or hill-sprints. 
  • Throughout the weeks, mileage or intensity should increase. For example, if you’ve programmed a 5k interval run, you should slightly increase the time of the high-intensity periods every week. Your foundation runs are where you can push up the mileage, but aim for one longer and one shorter run a week. 

Weeks 6-10

  • Increase to 4 runs per week. 
  • Your long run should be on a Sunday - aim to add 1 mile/week. 
  • Include 2 30-minute cardio sessions - 6 days working out in total.
  • Start dialling in on your speed and race technique throughout these weeks, tracking them and trying to improve your sprint finishes.  

Weeks 10-12

  • By now your long runs should be in double digital digits.
  • Introduce tempo runs into the mix.
  • Increase cardio from 20-30 minute sessions to 40 minutes.
  • Attempt a ½ marathon in week 12, adding an extra day of rest in this week. 

Weeks 12-16 

  • Your long run should peak in week 14, with a slight decrease in week 15 to prepare for a marathon at the end of week 16. 
  • Increase cardio sessions to 45 minutes. 
  • Decrease the intensity during week 16 with a low-intensity base run, tempo training and light cardio.

Incorporating cross-training 

As mentioned before, cross-training can be awesome for your running strategy. Low impact cardio such as cycling, will allow you to build up further cardiovascular capacity without taking its toll on your running technique. If you’re feeling fatigued from your runs for the week though, skip the cardio. The key is to tune into how you and your body is feeling and optimising for your end goal - the marathon. In addition, stretching and yoga can also be great additions to your routine. Keeping your body mobile and allowing your muscles time to repair and relax. 

Reaping the benefits of recovery 

Finally, we have recovery. This has just a big part to play as your running sessions in your strategy. Marathons take a massive toll on the body, so the time you’re not training must be spent resting. In addition, your nutrition is very important to fuel your body through this big 16-24 week change. Slow releasing carbs, whole foods and plenty of protein are all key to keeping on top of your game. Lastly, we have sleep. If your sleep is out of whack or your running training is making it difficult, consider switching up when you’re doing your runs or cardio. Perhaps a few earlier nights and early morning runs work best as you can crack through them before work. Or, if your job demands early rises, take your kit and a carb-rich snack with you to work. That way you can squeeze in your run or cardio before going home. Sleep is so important for your recovery, so be sure to make it a priority. 

So there you have it, all of the elements of a marathon running strategy. We hope you’ve found it useful, but if you’re looking for more running tips check out our blog. We even have one that covers different running types - essential for mastering your 5k to marathon strategy.